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Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre​

33 Victoria Street North (in the town of Saugeen Shores)
Southampton, ON Canada N0H 2L0

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Woolen Mills

Home | Stories & Artefacts | Woolen Mills

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One of the earliest industries in Bruce County were woolen mills and factories.  Mills are described as places where several processes in the making of wool take place such as carding as well as weaving whereas woolen factories are described as places where weaving and the creation of cloth took place.  By 1871, 14 woolen mills, carding mills and woolen factories had been established across Bruce County including Kincardine, Southampton, Mildmay, Paisley, and Tara.   According to author Norman Robertson, by the 1860s the woolen mill in Port Elgin had been established by Buschlen and Eby, John Denny established a mill in Southampton in 1865, and by 1866 Kincardine had two woolen factories.  Wiarton’s woolen mill, owned by William Turner was established in 1879.   At the turn of the twentieth century, the Bruce, Grey & Huron County Gazetteer & Directory lists 10 mills, and by 1910 that number was reduced to four.  By the middle of the twentieth century Bruce’s woolen mills had ceased operation.  


  Poster for Carrick Woollen FactoryThe earliest evidence of woolen mills found within the collection is this broadsheet for the Carrick Woollen Factory, printed in 1858.  The address for the factory, Lot 25 of the Elora Road eventually became the village of Mildmay, however from early land documents for this lot, there is no mention of W. Lambert or a factory.  The year 1858 predates the formation of Mildmay as a village; at the time Mildmay was a post office.  It is possible this business was not successful.   By 1871 Edmund Berry was operating a woolen factory in Mildmay and continued to into the mid-1890s when it was taken over by John Henderson and Andrew Giesler.  By the turn of the twentieth century the mill was run by William C. Rutledge & Co.  This business was gone by 1910.    


  Red wool and white linen coverletAnother early donation to the museum is this woven coverlet, made at the woolen factory in Formosa.  There is little known about this mill, except that was run by Jacob Messner until around 1870 when the operation was moved to Hanover.  Done in a style known as linsey-woolsey, this coverlet attests to the skill of the weavers within the factory, and that the factory made fully finished pieces.            


  Postcard with photo of Tara woolen millBy 1871 the woolen mill in Tara was established by Thomas Thompson and it was one of the major industries of the town.  In 1871 Thompson employed three male workers over the age of 16, and the mill was both water and horse powered.  That year they converted 10,000 pounds of wool into 3,000 yards of full cloth, blankets and flannel valued at $3,000.  By the early 1880s the mill was run by James Craven, and by the late 1880s Thomas. R. Foster who ran the mill through 1910.  The photo on this postcard dates to ca. 1907.        


  Woolen mill in PaisleyBy 1869 a woolen mill was operating in Paisley with “Murdoch & Orchard” being listed as the proprietors in the 1869 Province of Ontario Gazetteer & Directory.  Robertson mentions in his book that this mill burnt in 1871.  By 1871 Duncan Fisher was operating a carding mill and later partnering with his brother Archibald, they erected a roller mill and a woolen mill.  By 1899 the woolen mill employed eleven people and made tweeds, blankets, and fine and coarse woolens.  Fisher continued to operate the mill until 1903 when it was run by Bain & Co.  The mill ceased production by 1910.  Fisher’s woolen mill is the building on the left side of this photograph.        


  Woolen blanket with blue stripesThe Chesley woolen mill was established sometime between 1871 and 1884, and can be found listed in the 1884/85 Ontario Gazetteer & Directory as being run by Sharpe & Mackinnon who produced also produced felt stockings and had a boot and shoe factory in Montreal.  By 1888 it was being run by Grant & Co (James Grant and James Reavely).  By the end of the 1890s, it appears Reavely had left the company, and the mill was run by J. Grant & Co.  In 1912 Grant sold the mill to Charles and Perce Wilkins, who produced cloth and blankets.  During the First World War, the factory produced khaki woolen blankets for the Canadian Army.  By the 1930s the mill/factory had added another element to production – that of recycling old woolens into new blankets.  Due to this operation, the mill became a co-operative and the name changed to Northern Textiles.  At the outset of the Second World War, the mill again was awarded a contract to produce blankets for the Canadian forces.  In 1941 the mill caught fire and burned.  It was never rebuilt.  The blanket seen here was made at the Chesley woolen mill and was given as a wedding gift to Edith MacKinnon in 1931.    


  Woolen mill in PinkertonPinkerton’s carding and fulling mills were established according to author Norman Robertson some years after Thomas Pinkerton erected the sawmill and gristmills (1850s to early 1860s). Lovell’s Province of Ontario Directory for 1871 lists Thomas Pinkerton as operating the saw and carding mills.  The carding mill and later the fulling mill continued in under the leadership of Thomas Pinkerton until 1898 when R. Gibbon is listed as the proprietor of the Pinkerton woolen mill.  By 1903, the mill was no longer in operation.        


  Woolen factory in CargillThe woolen mill and factory in Cargill were established around 1902 when Cargill Rife Manufacturing Company moved their works from Walkerton to Cargill.  By 1910 it was known as the Cargill Woollen Manufacturing Company.  This photo of the mill and works seen here dates from ca. 1903.  Based on the number of people in the photograph the Cargill Woollen Manufacturing Company would have been a large employer for the town and employed both men and women.

To discover more resources for woolen mills in the online collection Click Here

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